US signs military base plan with Colombia

In a private ceremony, US Ambassador William Brownfield and three Colombian ministers signed an agreement Oct. 30 to expand Washington’s military presence in the Andean country. Officials said the plan will increase US access to seven Colombian bases for 10 years for “counterterrorism and counternarcotics” operations—without increasing the number of personnel beyond the cap of 1,400 now specified by US law. A Colombian government statement said the pact “respects the principles of equal sovereignty, territorial integrity and nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states.”

Before the signing, Brownfield said the pact will be subject to ratification by the US Congress. “I want it to be clear that according to our proceedings and our rules, after firming an executive pact, we are obliged to pass this text to US Congress, specifically the two committees of Foreign Relations of the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Brownfield was quoted by Colombia’s Radio Caracol. The Colombian government claims the military agreement is not a new pact, but falls under deals previously been approved by the country’s congress and thus does not have to be ratified.

Colombia’s Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez met Oct. 29 with legislative leaders to explain why the country’s congress is being left out of the process. Following this meeting, Chamber of Deputies president Edgar Gómez told reporters that “it is not an international treaty but a simplified agreement that develops obligations in multilateral treaties signed by Colombia and the United States, which were revised by Congress and the Constitutional Court at the time of signing.” (AP, Oct. 30; Colombia Reports, Oct. 29)

Seeking to assuage Colombian concerns about the deal, Brownfield last month told Radio Caracol that only six US soldiers have committed crimes on Colombian territory in the last ten years—out of a total of 10,000 soldiers and 10,000 contractors that have been stationed in the country. “In other words, more or less three cases for 10,000 people, it is a pretty low number,” Brownfield said. “I imagine this is a much lower figure than the crime rate in Colombia or the United States.”

According to Brownfield, only one of those cases has still not been resolved by the authorities. He did not mention what case specifically was still open because “the people have a right to privacy.” This one case could be that of the rape of a 12-year old girl in Colombia in 2007. The two suspects were removed from Colombia, but were never charged in the US. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 3)

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